If anyone knows how to play a lovable dork, it’s Asa Butterfield. That said, the Sex Education star takes his nerdiness to new heights in Choose or Diethe new Netflix horror movie that began streaming on Friday, and it’s delightful.
If you thought you wanted to pinch those babyface cheeks before, just wait until you meet Isaac, Butterfield’s character in Choose or Die. Isaac is a sweet twenty-something computer programmer, who spends his days in a cluttered apartment designing his perfect video game. He doesn’t bother to hide his obvious crush on his friend Kayla (played by Iola Evans), a fellow programmer who is the inspiration for his video game’s character design. Kayla playfully mocks Isaac’s retro taste in ’80s music, and Isaac not-so-playfully promises Kayla a programming job once his game gets picked up.
Isaac stammers and fidgets and facepalms his way through his awkward flirtations with Kayla, and you just want to wrap him up in a blanket and promise to keep him safe. He is a cinnamon roll, far too pure for this world—especially the world of a gruesome horror movie. Unfortunately, Kayla and Isaac’s fairytale romance is cut short when Kayla finds an obscure ’80s video game at Isaac’s place called Curs>r, and decides to play it. It is, inevitably, cursed, and Kayla and Isaac are sucked into a deadly game where they must “choose or die” between horrific options. C’est la vie, etc.
But even when he’s terrified for his life, Butterfield can’t turn off the adorable. When Kayla frankly asks Isaac if the reason he is helping her track down the game’s maker is “because you want to help me, or because you want to get with me,” he hopefully replies, like a puppy perking up its ears: “Both ?” And your heart breaks, just a little bit.
Perhaps Isaac the gamer nerd was the perfect role for Butterfield, because the 25-year-old actor is a pretty big gaming nerd himself. In an interview with screenwriter Simon Allen for the Choose or Die production notes, Allen recalls the very first Zoom call that he and Toby Meakins had with the actor.
“Toby and I had to do a call with Asa,” Allen said, “which was quite high stakes, because we were told: ‘Look, he wants to talk to you, and if you get him, then we’ll greenlight you .’ You’re sort of braced for the big pitch. Then we fire up Zoom, and he’s got all this gaming stuff in the background, and his cool headphones on, and he’s sat in his gaming chair. And you instantly think, ‘Oh, he’s gonna do this!’ He was lovely, really lovely.”
In that same interview, Butterfield confirmed, that, in fact, he is indeed a huge nerd. “I have played games all my life,” the Sex Education star said. “I got my first games console when I was maybe six years old. I had a GameCube. And I’ve played some older ones. My uncle’s got a whole kind of collection, like a Mega Drive, an Atari, a Dreamcast so when I saw this 8-bit kind of system they’re going for [in Choose or Die], I was like, ‘OK, this is believable. This makes sense.””
As for his character, Butterfield fondly described Isaac’s pure baby gamer boy attitude: “He’s kind of got a Marty McFly energy. I mean, even when he’s talking about this cursed videogame, he’s getting excited about it and the prospect, rather than the reality of the situation. He’s got this slightly rose-tinted view on it until it’s a bit more gruesome.”
Of course—minor spoiler alert—things don’t exactly end happily for poor, innocent Isaac. You may not want to get too attached. Luckily, you can always watch Butterfield being a slightly-less-innocent-but-no-less-adorable nerd in Sex Education, which has been renewed for a fourth season on Netflix. Beyond that, we have a feeling there will be plenty more cute, dorky characters in Butterfield’s future. He’s just so darn good at it.
Watch Choose or Die on Netflix